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Facebook and the Government: Can They Ever Login and Be Friends? (Full Story)
Comments () | Published June 6, 2011
"This was enough office space when it was just me," Conner says. "But it's not enough now." So on April 1 the company moved into an 8,500-square-foot office above the Guess store on F Street in downtown DC.

That's enough room for nine people--in fact, it's enough for 40. Which happens to be the current size of Google's Washington office. And that's not mere coincidence.

Google came to Washington when many policymakers barely knew what Google was. So, too, Facebook.

Google's 27,000-square-foot office at 1101 New York Avenue, just north of Metro Center, still offers plenty of room for growth. So, too, Facebook.

And Googlers work in a brightly colored space that includes game machines.

"For now, we're going to have a lot of room to move around in and shoot Nerf guns at each other," says Andrew Noyes, Facebook DC's manager of public-policy communications.

"And maybe have Skee-Ball," Conner adds.

"Or hammocks," Noyes counters.

Or maybe filing cabinets and computer servers.

The truth is that Facebook may not have a very fun 2011 in Washington. Because it traffics in billions of bits and bytes of the most revealing personal data, the company has become, according to Brandweek magazine, the poster child for a debate over online privacy. That debate seems ready to boil over, and Facebook, more than even Google, stands to get burned. At least five pieces of legislation are being considered on Capitol Hill, and a sweeping new Internet regulatory regime is under review by the Federal Trade Commission and the Commerce Department.

All of that could disrupt the process by which Facebook connects its more than 500 million users to its advertisers and application developers, the companies that build information-sharing tools and games for Facebook users. And that could interrupt the company's revenues just as Facebook may be eyeing a 2012 initial public offering of stock.

So you have to ask again: Why is the disembodied head of Mark Zuckerberg laughing?

Part of the answer lies in the savvy staff now sitting in the office on F Street.

Conner, a techie who speaks in rapid-fire cadence, has helped spread the word about Facebook around Washington, helping create pages for hundreds of lawmakers and three dozen federal agencies and departments. And that has given Facebook influence in Washington.

"Facebook is able to curry tremendous political favor now," says Jeff Chester, who heads the Center for Digital Democracy in Washington, one of Facebook's leading opponents on privacy issues. "Any politician who wants to be elected nowadays needs to understand how Facebook works. And now they have a friendly lobbyist to call on to help them to influence constituents."

Next: On the Hill, lawmakers turn to social media

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Posted at 11:00 AM/ET, 06/06/2011 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Articles